EUNDA – The edges of Etaka canal and the dry oshanas near Outapi in Omusati Region are messed up with stinking rotten donkey carcasses as drought takes its toll on the poor draught animals.
Village dogs are on a continuous meat feast and it is obvious they now do not need food from home – they take along their puppies to feed on donkey meat.
Unlike cows and goats, donkeys and horses rarely feed on leaves and twigs, they primarily feed on grass, which is nowhere to be found unless the owners feed them.
When a lean cow fails to stand up, it can be assisted to stand and be fed until it recovers its strength to do so on its own. Donkeys do not have that privilege when they are hungry and thin – if they lie down and can’t stand up, that is the end of their lives.
As such, most of those that are not fed have been dying like flies in all parts of Omusati Region.
For centuries, donkeys have been the most important draught animals for communal farmers across the region and country. This is despite less importance being attached to them compared to cattle in most communities.
A black man values his cattle more than a donkey if he owns both, however, those who only own donkeys do give them the respect they deserve.
They have been ploughing fields, fetching water, transporting goods and humans on their backs.
With the land still dry, communal farmers in Eunda village are suspecting this could be the last days of their donkeys.
Those New Era spoke to last week indicated the current drought has decimated their kraals.
Selma Amvula, 50, says she does not have cattle – her only livestock were 11 donkeys and goats.
“All my donkeys died, eleven of them. I watched helplessly as my animals perished due to drought. I have no money to buy fodder for them. The little I can do is skin and store the meat which nobody wants to buy or eat,” a downhearted Naango YaIkalu, as she is commonly known, told New Era.
She says it is sad to lose her animals that she used to plough her field with and grow mahangu to feed her children because she is a single mother.
“Now I have to scrape around for money to buy a donkey or two if rain comes so that we are able to plough again. I can’t even sell the meat; as you know people here do not eat donkey meat much.”
Naango YaIkalu blames the government for not making sure drought fodder reaches her donkeys.
She says she could not register her donkeys to receive drought fodder from the government as she was told they are not considered and do not qualify to receive such assistance.
She was allegedly informed by some of the villagers that only cows and goats qualify.
“Rich people with cattle do not value our donkeys, it’s us poor people who prioritise them because they are the only ones we have. I think the government also does not see the value of donkeys.”
She used the opportunity to ask government to make sure donkeys also receive drought fodder just like other livestock.
Erastus Immanuel, also from Eunda, noted that he is not aware that donkeys are denied drought fodder because he did not try to register his. Nonetheless, he said they are as important as cattle and goats as well as horses.
“They must receive the same treatment that we give to cattle because they are of great significance.”
Timoteus Uugwanga Makwa lost eight of his donkeys and now is only left with five, which he says could die anytime soon.
Although Uugwanga concentrates more on saving the cattle, he notes his donkeys are valuable and advised that donkeys must be given the same attention as cattle.
Councillor for Onesi Constituency Titus Kanyele is not spared from dying donkeys either, as seven of his donkeys also perished this year.
Kanyele confirmed he does not have anymore donkeys left, something he described as serious especially to those who might not be able to afford to replace these animals.
“It could be the end of our donkeys in this region. Usually when we drive to Outapi from Epalela, we see a lot of them along the road but today you only see carcasses, that is a bad situation.”
Being a representative of government in the region, governor Erginus Endjala was given a chance to respond on whether donkeys are being excluded from drought fodder.
The regional head stated he was not aware of any exclusion, noting that all livestock are considered equally.
Endjala however observed that a lot of donkeys are not branded and tagged, which makes it difficult for them to qualify for drought assistance, as branding is one of the requirements.
A thorough answer on this was provided by I−Ben Nashandi, the executive director in the Office of the Prime Minister, who said government does not discriminate against donkeys, as they are part of livestock that receive drought feed.
“We did not go to the extent of defining which animal is included or excluded, we just said livestock. We did not say livestock must include donkeys. If they meet the criteria, I do not understand why they must not qualify.”
One should meet the income threshold category which is N$2 600 to be described as a poor farmer.
To benefit from the fodder given for livestock support, farmers must have less than 26 large stock units mostly defined as cattle, and 130 small stock units defined as goats and/or sheep.
Once the farmer qualifies, he/she will receive free fodder and licks.
“If you only have donkeys you can go and buy your fodder, we don’t care what you are going to do with your fodder, whether you will give it to donkeys or cattle. You can then claim your subsidy for each bale of grass you bought.”
Nashandi says tagging ensures that an animal belongs to the rightful owner and this eliminates the chances of farmers using the same animal to benefit from livestock support.
“Some people can also come receive fodder without animals and sell it to other farmers.”
Namibia is a semi-arid country and rainfall patterns have mostly been erratic. It has been widely reported that the year 2019 is the driest in 90 years. Windhoek measured the lowest rainfall since it started recording its rainfall in 1891.
Government started rolling out the drought relief programme at the beginning of June, after President Hage Geingob declared a national drought emergency in May.
Government announced it will set aside N$570 million to help drought-hit farmers and families. In May, government also started receiving donations in cash and in kind from foreign governments, international organisations, local corporate entities and individuals.
So far it has received about N$100 million in donations meant for drought relief.